Striking photos of a 6-year-old Palestinian girl being pulled alive from the rubble of her Gaza home — destroyed Sunday by an Israeli airstrike that killed her mother and all four of her siblings — illustrate the devastating impact the violence in the area has had on Palestinian children and families.
Photojournalists in Gaza captured a series of extraordinary images that showed rescuers lifting Suzy Eshkuntana from the debris of her family’s home in Gaza City, where she had been trapped for seven hours. The little girl, covered in dust with streaks of blood running down her face, wept as she was removed from the rubble and carried to an ambulance.
A video, shared on Instagram by photographer Wissam Nassar, showed the moment rescuers found Suzy amid the debris.
She was transported to a hospital where she was reunited with her father, Riyad Eshkuntana, who was being treated for injuries, according to a Reuters report that detailed the family’s harrowing story.
"Forgive me, my daughter,” Riyad Eshkuntana told his little girl, after she was placed in the hospital bed next to his. “You screamed to me to come to you, but I couldn't come,” he said.
Suzy’s four young siblings, including her 4-year-old brother, along with their mother, did not survive, Reuters reported.
The Eshkuntanas’ home in Gaza City was hit by Israeli airstrikes early Sunday, leveling three buildings and killing 42 people — including 10 children and 16 women — the Palestinian Health Ministry said. It was the deadliest day in Israel’s weeklong bombing campaign amid some of the worst fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza war and during Israel’s ongoing economic blockade.
Israel’s military said they targeted a tunnel system used by militants under the city, which led the buildings above the tunnel to collapse. Around 50 people were injured in Sunday’s airstrikes and the number was expected to rise as rescuers continued to extract victims, both dead and alive, from under the rubble, health officials said.
For weeks, armed Israeli police have violently cracked down on protesters demonstrating against forcible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The violence escalated when Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, injuring hundreds of worshippers and prompting Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, to fire a barrage of rockets. Israel’s military launched an ongoing bombardment campaign in response to the rocket fire, leading to a vast number of civilian casualties in Gaza, nearly half of whom are women and children.
At least 198 Palestinians, including 58 children and 35 women, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Healthy Ministry, and around 1,300 have been injured in the seven days since fighting began.
Ten Israelis, including two children, have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90% of the more than 3,000 rockets fired by Hamas since last week, the IDF said in a tweet.
On Saturday, 10 members of a family, including eight children and two women, were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit a refugee camp in Gaza. Mohammed al-Hadidi said that his wife and four of his sons — ages 5, 8, 11, and 14 — died in the strike, the New York Times reported. Only his 5-month-old son, Omar, was pulled out alive from the rubble.
Israeli airstrikes on Saturday also destroyed a 12-floor residential building in Gaza that housed the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, and other international news organizations, without providing evidence so far to support its claim that Hamas operated from there.
The move was widely condemned as a threat to the free press in the region, with AP calling it “an incredibly disturbing development” where journalists narrowly avoided being killed.
The multitude of horrific images of children, some mere infants, being pulled out of debris in Gaza, coupled with the growing civilian death toll of Israeli airstrikes, has drawn global outrage, sparking pro-Palestinian protests in major cities around the world.
“The scale of violence is massive,” Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Saturday. “Children are bearing the brunt of this escalation. All sides need to step back and end the violence.”
As Suzy and her father were being treated at the hospital, their relatives in the waiting room reeled from the crushing news that her younger brother, 4-year-old Yehya, had died. Minutes later, Reuters reported, medics brought in another young girl. "They brought Dana. Dana, Dana, are you OK?" the relatives asked. But she had also died, along with her other brother and sister.
Suzy’s survival brought relief to the grieving family. She was bruised but had no serious injuries, doctors said.
Riyad Eshkuntana told Reuters that he had put his children in a safe room in the building when “suddenly, a strange rocket, like fire and flame, destroyed two walls.”
As he and his wife rushed to check on their kids, the second explosion caused the ceiling to collapse.
"I heard my son Zain calling: 'Daddy, daddy.' His voice was OK, but I couldn't turn to look at him because I was trapped," Riyad Eshkuntana said.
The father, whose head was wrapped in a bloody bandage, gently kissed his only surviving child’s hand as she lay in the bed next to his, Reuters reported.
“I was filled with all the anger of the universe, but when I heard that one of my daughters was alive, I said, ‘Thank God,’ because this girl might capture some — even a little — of my daughters’ smile because she is their sister,” he said.